U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Philippine Teen Saso Midway Leader at The Olympic Club June 5, 2021 | San Francisco, Calif. By David Shefter, USGA

Yuka Saso's 4-under 67 on Friday catapulted the 19-year-old from the Philippines into the 36-hole lead at Olympic. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)

76th U.S. Women's Open Home

What Happened

Golf is a game obsessed with numbers. Whether it’s the numerals we write on the scorecard or the myriad of statistics produced by sabermetric gurus, fans and media love to debate figures until our brains go on information overload.

But here are three key numbers to digest from the 76th U.S. Women’s Open Championship that don’t have to do with strokes gained, cost of the rough or greens in regulation. They are: 19-11-17, and they could be quite relatable come Sunday afternoon at The Olympic Club.

Although it appears to be a locker combination, the trio of figures represent Yuka Saso’s exact age on Sunday. And why is that important? Should the 36-hole leader from the Philippines go on and hoist the Harton S. Semple Trophy, she would be the exact same age as the U.S. Women’s Open’s youngest champion all-time: Inbee Park. Park was 19 years, 11 months, 17 days old when she captured this title 13 years ago at Interlachen Country Club outside of Minneapolis. Since then, the World Golf Hall of Fame inductee has captured six additional majors, including a second U.S. Women’s Open title (2013).

Following her 4-under-par 67 on Friday, Saso is halfway home to collecting major No. 1. Her 6-under total of 136 is one stroke better than 2019 champion Jeongeun Lee6. Two others – American professional Megan Khang and the darling of this competition thus far, 17-year-old New Jersey amateur Megha Ganne – are two strokes back.

Major champion Shanshan Feng is three off the lead at 138, while the aforementioned Park, major champion Lexi Thompson and 18-hole co-leader Mel Reid are tied at 2-under 140.

For the second consecutive day, players were greeted with typical early June San Francisco weather – a morning marine layer followed by peeks of sunshine, temperatures in the 50s and breezes in the 5-to-10-mph range.

Despite her youth, Saso has a bit of a comfort level around leader boards. Playing on a sponsor’s exemption in mid-April, she opened with a pair of 64s in the LPGA Tour’s Lotte Championship in Hawaii before weekend rounds of 71-70 dropped her into a share of sixth.

Two years ago, she advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior, then passed up a scholarship offer from the University of Georgia to turn professional. Since then, Saso, a semifinalist in the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur, has captured two events on the LPGA Tour of Japan and has risen to 40th in the Rolex World Rankings.

Despite playing most of Friday’s round from the rough – she hit just six fairways and is tied for 123rd in that category (14 of 28) – Saso managed to hit 13 greens and register six birdies against just two bogeys. Starting the day on No. 9, she closed her round with a 7-foot birdie on the 422-yard fifth and a 14-footer on the 162-yard eighth.

“I hit good shots from the rough today and holed a couple putts,” said Saso. “I think that made my day good.”

Lee6, who tied for sixth in her title defense last December at Champions Golf Club, closed with a flurry of birdies on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 to shoot 67, earning a spot in Saturday’s final pairing with Saso. 

“I gained great confidence because I won the championship,” said Lee6 through a translator.

For a good portion of Friday, it looked like Ganne, a Holmdel (N.J.) High junior who has committed to play at Stanford University in the fall of 2022, would occupy that spot. After shooting a 67 to share the 18-hole lead with Reid, Ganne continued her whirlwind week with an even-par 71, a round that saw her convert a 9-foot par putt on No. 8 to the delight of the bevy of spectators who followed the precocious teen.

In a span of 24 hours, Ganne, a semifinalist in the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur and a four-time Drive, Chip & Putt national finalist, received Twitter love from New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and national attention from the assembled media. Meanwhile, she’s trying to find time to complete a calculus assignment, as her classes don’t end until June 24.  

She’s bidding to join Catherine Lacoste of France (1967), the lone amateur winner of the U.S. Women’s Open.

Ganne, a product of The First Tee of Metropolitan New York and LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, took time after her flurry of post-round media obligations to chat with a group of girls from a Bay Area LPGA-USGA Girls Golf chapter.

“I wish every event I had a gallery watching me because it just makes me play better,” said Ganne, who got into the field of 156 via a 3-for-1 playoff in the May 10 qualifier at Spring Lake (N.J.) Country Club. “And I love being in the spotlight, so it's been really fun.”

Perhaps making things easier is the fact that Ganne isn’t on any manner of social media.  Having Mike Finn, a 20-year Olympic member, on the bag definitely helps, as does a maturity that belies her age.

“Way calmer than yesterday,” said Ganne. “The first four holes [on Thursday], I was kind of jittery and a little bit panicked, but on the tee box today I had a bit of a cushion, so I wasn't as stressed out.”

Who knows, maybe 17 will become the new numerical benchmark of this championship.

What’s Next

The 66 players – 62 professionals and four amateurs – who made the 36-hole cut of 6-over 147 will play Rounds 3 and 4 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. NBC will broadcast Round 3 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. EDT, followed by five hours of live coverage from Golf Channel.

Amateur Megha Ganne has created a buzz around The Olympic Club with her dazzling play through two rounds. (Darren Carroll/USGA)

Notable

  • Jennifer Kupcho registered the championship’s 32nd known hole-in-one, using a 9-iron on the 134-yard 13th hole. Last year, three players recorded aces at Champions Golf Club, including runner-up Amy Olson. 

  • Two-time champion Inbee Park (69) went into the history books with her 25th sub-par round in a U.S. Women’s Open, moving out of a tie with two-time winner Betsy King and Beth Daniel. Park achieved the feat in just her 15th Women’s Open, 11 fewer than King and 13 fewer than Daniel. 

  • A Lim Kim (7-over 149) became the first defending champion since Sung Hyun Park (2018) to miss the cut. 

  • Megha Ganne isn’t the only amateur enjoying a great week at Olympic. Oklahoma State standout Maja Stark, of Sweden, is tied for ninth at 1-under 141. Last December at Champions Golf Club, Stark finished tied for 13th. Stanford freshman and world No. 2 Rachel Heck (147), who won the NCAA individual title two weeks ago, also made the cut, as did Baylor University All-American Gurleen Kaur (144). 
     
  • Minnesotans can certainly relate to playing in 50-degree temperatures, and two natives of the Land of 10,000 Lakes each improved by 10 strokes on the Lake Course. Sarah Burnham, of Maple Grove, who is making her second U.S. Women’s Open start and first as a professional, rebounded from an opening 76 to card the low round of the championship, a 5-under-par 66, and moved up 72 spots, from a tie for 84th to a share of 12th. Amateur Isabella McCauley, 17, of Inver Grove Heights, posted a 1-under 70, but missed the cut by two strokes after opening with an 80. This is her second USGA championship following the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior at SentryWorld.  

  • Of the 66 players to make the cut, 18 advanced to the championship via qualifying. 

Quotable

“It was tough today. It was definitely colder. I just felt a little bit of a nick in my back on the back nine. I was just trying to make the best swing possible. I just started to shiver a little bit, and when I start shivering is when it kind of jars up a little bit. I’ve got my physio here. I’m probably going to see her tonight. I just need to stretch it out.” – 18-hole co-leader Mel Reid after her 2-over 73

“It is tough to get loose when you're playing in the cold weather, but I love [this], and I know how to play in [these conditions]. I'd much rather this than the 100-degree heat.” – Two-time champion Inbee Park on the weather this week 

“Growing up with two older brothers (Curtis and Nicholas), always just trying to be better, on and off the golf course. I've been working extremely hard on my game, on my fitness, and on the mental side, as well. Golf is a crazy game and you can never perfect it.” – Lexi Thompson (2-under 140) on her diligent preparations for this championship   

“It means a lot. I never thought I would shoot 5 under at a U.S. [Women’s] Open. Last night I was talking to my boyfriend and he was just telling me, ‘Don't leave any shots out there, just give it all you have,’ and that's exactly what I did today.” – Sarah Burnham on her 10-stroke improvement in Round 2 

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

 

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